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No matter what pretexts Japanese politicians employ to justify it, the Yasukuni Shrine in the heart of Tokyo is a highly symbolic reminder of Japan's militarist past, because it enshrines 14 convicted Class-A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo and other war criminals among Japan's war dead.
Whether a Japanese prime minister visits the shrine is a tested-and-true political weather vane for judging its political direction, as well as proof that he respects or disregards the sensitivities of other countries and the postwar international order.
On Thursday Shinzo Abe signed the entry book to the shrine as Japan's prime minister, revealing the claims by his subordinates, that he visited it in a "private capacity" and it was a matter of "personal belief", to be poor disguises and outright lies.
Resorting to their same old gangster logic in the dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, they want us to swallow Abe's offensive pilgrimage to Yasukuni as a non-issue.
Responding to the ensuing angry diplomatic ripples, the unapologetic Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida highlighted his government's "hope" to "avoid letting an affair as such develop into a political or diplomatic issue". This "hope" is sheer hypocrisy. Because Abe knows full well "it is a reality that the visit to Yasukuni Shrine has become a political and diplomatic issue".
Contrary to his claim that Abe had "no intention at all of hurting the feelings of Chinese or South Korean people", Abe made the visit anticipating opposition from both countries, as Japanese New Komeito Party chief Natsuo Yamaguchi confirmed.
Abe knew it would be an insult. But he does not care. What he wants to do is use the opposition of neighboring countries to fuel domestic nationalism and garner more support.
Abe's shrine visit is a signal that nothing at home is holding him back from his ultra-rightist political agenda to rewrite Japan's pacifist Constitution and revive his war-cabinet grandfather's dream of making Japan a military power.
If Abe truly loves peace, he would not have sought to break Japan's tradition and let it export weapons again. If he respects international law, he would not have claimed there is no clear definition of "aggression". If he honors humanity, he would not be trying to sweep under the carpet the atrocities committed by the Japanese troops and instead show respect to their victims, both the buried and the breathing.
Abe's calculated move, on the anniversary of his administration's taking office, is an intolerable insult to the feelings of Chinese and Korean peoples among others and a blatant attack on human decency, as well as a shameful challenge to the international consensus on history and justice, to which our response should in no way stop at diplomatic representations.
Abe's nasty track record — his denial of the aggressive nature of Japanese intrusions during WWII, his lack of remorse for Japan's historical sins, and his crooked approach to territorial disputes — disqualifies him from having an opportunity to explain, face to face, to Chinese and South Korean leaders his motive and purpose. His tribute to Yasukuni has slammed the door to dialogue shut.
Given the Abe administration's bankrupt political credibility and dangerous political orientations, the international community and China should not be fooled by his excuses, instead it is time for them to seriously reconsider their relationship with Japan, from perspectives of security, diplomacy and economy.
A Japan obsessed with its militarist past is a real danger to the Asia-Pacific.